The Many Problems With Michael's Law

On July 1, a new law took effect in the state of Georgia. Michael's Law is the manifestation of Georgia House Bill 152, designed to amend Chapter 3 of Title 3 of the O.C.G.A. In addition to the undeniable positives of requiring licensee training, and minimum insurance requirements for drinking establishments, Michael's Law (named for Michael Gatto, an 18-year-old Georgia Southern student who was beaten to death by a 20-year-old bouncer at a bar in Statesboro) makes it illegal for anyone under 21 years to enter a bar, which is defined as any establishment from which at least 75 percent of their revenue is derived from alcohol sales. At face, this law seems to be a solution to the issue of underage drinking in Georgia, which endangers and kills many individuals, particularly college students each year, but rather than solving a problem, I believe it will create many more.

1. The definition of "bar" laid forth by the law leaves many establishments unaffected and allows for manipulation from the affected bars.

Many towns, such as Dahlonega, will not allow the establishment of any business whose alcohol-to-food sales ratio is more alcohol-heavy than 50:50 to open its doors, however there are establishments in town that are known exclusively for their bar scene. Very few people go to certain venues for any other reason except to drink, yet somehow, they have represented their sales in such a way that they maintain that 50:50 ratio. If it's possible to construe accounting information in this way, it's easy to lower the percentage of alcohol sales for those 75 percent+ establishments that the law is intended to govern.

2. Fake ID sales will increase, creating more criminals.

When bars fail to minimize their percentage of alcohol sales to get out from under the hand of this law, kids will try harder than ever to get in to drink, an issue that already exists. Fake ID creation is a multi-million dollar black market. Back in 2013, a fake ID production ring originating from the University of Georgia and spreading across four states was busted, resulting in 21 criminal indictments. These are sophisticated criminals. They're doing much more than simply printing on standard printer paper from their college dorms.

Students admitted to paying $60 or more to get fake licenses to drink, and they passed through bouncers' hands easily. Because of the fact that this law sweeps the whole state and creates liability issues for business owners, under-21'ers won't stop drinking--they'll just get more desperate and turn to more and more sophisticated operations to purchase. The penalty for getting caught using a fake ID varies depending on how the individual is charged, but it can be a misdemeanor with a $500 fine, or it can be considered felony forgery, carrying the penalty of a year and a half in state prison. For manufacturers, the punishment can be a $1,000 fine or prison time as well.

3. This creates unemployment issues for teens, a demographic that already experiences difficulty finding jobs.

Working as a bartender can be a lucrative position for a recent high school grad looking to make money to pay for college. Because of the influx of adults already in non-degree-requiring, minimum wage-type jobs that has already occurred, it is more difficult than ever for teens and young adults to find jobs as it is, and this is yet another position from which 18 to 20-year-olds are unable to earn income. The law also immediately creates unemployment for 18 to 20-year-olds who held jobs as bouncers and bartenders before this law was enacted, as there is no grandfather clause.

4. An increase in drunk driving will likely occur.

Many college students rely on their law-abiding, under-21 friends to serve as designated drivers for nights out. Because of this law, students' DDs can no longer wait around in their bar and monitor their friends until time to go home. How many kids are going to be willing to wait in the parking lot or stay up at home and wait for the "pick me up" call or text, as opposed to staying sober while still joining the fun on a Thirsty Thursday? Without an underage friend to take others home, more 21+ partakers will likely take their lives and the lives of others into their own hands and elect to drive themselves home so as not to inconvenience their younger friends, who are banned from spending time in the places they previously were permitted to occupy. Michael's Law could literally destroy lives.

5. This also potentially creates an issue for local musicians.

One of two exceptions to the law is that those under 21 are allowed to enter bars if they paid for tickets to see a show inside the bar, but what about those local musicians who are favorites in bars and rely on tips from patrons to succeed? Those who were likely to be sober in the bars, and therefore more likely to appreciate the live music and give a little cash to local talent are now no longer a viable option for musicians' income. Not having a monetarily appreciative audience will discourage musicians. This is a much less pressing issue than drunk driving or fake IDs, but it is yet another negative of this new piece of legislation nonetheless.

A decision made by Georgia lawmakers as the emotional reaction to a single person's death could result in the death and incarceration of many more individuals. While the law was well-intended, it further inserts the government's nose in places it does not belong, perpetuating the presence of a "nanny state" and lining the pockets of lawmakers, all in the name of "looking out for our kids."

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